I was saddened to read about the community gardens along the Arbutus corridor in Vancouver being bulldozed. The article stated that gardens tended by families, some for 20 years, on an unused railroad track right-of-way had to be removed. If the gardeners did not, the rail company would, and it did. Photos of backhoes tearing up fences and peak-of-harvest gardens are heartbreaking.
It turned out the rail company had given the gardeners a deadline to remove their gardens and structures. Some of these folks had greenhouses and sheds! That shows how long this track had been abandoned. The deadline had passed, nothing had been moved, so the rail company came in and is in the process of removing everything to get the trains running again. (Ed: Maybe, get the trains running .. at some point …)
Sound fair now?
Not to me.
Public and private property squabbles
The city and the rail company have been discussing what to do with this piece of unused land for decades. While they duked it out all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, wise gardeners kept growing. As recently as July, the city was attempting to come to a compromise on a long-term solution. The rail company ignored the requests and went ahead dismantling these gardens. I could cry for these people. It seems so unfair!
It is peak harvest season. I am sure these gardeners depend on the food they grow to cut their grocery bills. Maybe some of them sell their overflow for extra spending money. Maybe they donate to a food bank. Maybe they grow cultural foods they can’t get in a grocery store. Maybe, just maybe, they like their gardening neighbors and have enjoyed a sense of well-being and community with others who may have been strangers in the past. This was a neighborhood. This was a community. These gardens had been an integral part of these people’s lives for decades.
The rail company could have been more compassionate. They could have waited until the gardening season was over. It takes months to get a garden to its peak in August! An entire growing season – the time and energy, the investment of plants, seeds and fertilizers – has been lost.
I think the rail company should have made other arragements so these people could keep on gardening close to home. It seems to me the bulldozing of these gardens was more of an attack on the city. One article said it was a bullying tactic, and that’s how it feels to me.
The city wanted the rail corridor to remain a green space. So far it has lost the battle. Whether or not it will continue in court, I can’t say. I think the city should help create a new community garden, though. I doubt this sort of help will come from the rail company. The gardeners could also band together as a civic organization and find space as a group.
Urban farming and community gardens need to be encouraged, not destroyed. There are many benefits besides good food and getting to know your neighbors – crime prevention, social activism, and building life and job skills for both kids and adults. Check out this list to learn more, and support community gardening efforts in your town.